Ode to Friday: Nhat Hanh


To represent the two dimensions of reality, we use the image of the wave and water. Looking at the dimension of the wave, the historical dimension, we see that the wave seems to have a beginning and an end. The wave can be high or low compared to other waves. The wave might be more or less beautiful than other waves. The wave might be there or not there; it might be there now but not there later. All these notions are there when we first touch the historical dimension: birth and death, being and nonbeing, high and low, coming and going, and so on. But we know that when we touch the wave more deeply, we touch water. The water is the other dimension of the wave. It represents the ultimate dimension.

In the historical dimension, we talk in terms of life, death, being, nonbeing, high, low, coming, going, but in the ultimate dimension, all these notions are removed …

All of us are like that wave. We have our historical dimension. We speak in terms of beginning to be at a certain point in time, and ceasing to be at another point in time. We believe that we are now existing and that before our birth we did not exist. We get caught in these notions, and that is why we have fear, we have jealousy, we have craving, we have all these conflicts and afflictions within us. Now if we are capable of arriving, of being more solid and free, it will be possible for us to touch our true nature, the ultimate dimension of ourselves. In touching that ultimate dimension, we break free from all these notions that have made us suffer …

By being in contact with the ultimate dimension, we are able to be in touch with the reality of all things, which is birthless and deathless …

And we answer … “The wave comes from water and will return to water.” In reality, there is no coming and going. The wave is always water; it doesn’t “come from” water, and it doesn’t go anywhere. It is always water; coming and going are just mental constructions. The wave has never left the water, so to say the wave “comes from” the water is not really correct. As it is always water, we cannot say it “returns to” water. Right at the moment when the wave is a wave, it is already water. Birth and death, coming and going, are just concepts. When we are in touch with our no-birth, no-death nature, we have no fear.

~ from Fear by Thich Nhat Hanh (Vietnamese, 1926-)


Image: On George Baher’s yacht, 1928, Edward Steichen, from the current exhibition at NGV, Melbourne: Edward Steichen and Art Deco Fashion


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